updated 4/15/2013 8:52:21 AM ET 2013-04-15T12:52:21

HARDBALL
April 11, 2013

Guests: Angus King, John Feehery, Michael Feldman, Willie Brown, Barbara Buono

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Shirts and skins.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. What a day in American politics. There
it was, right out there on the floor of the U.S. Senate, right there on C-
SPAN, this bright red, flaming line between the Republicans who are open to
honest debate and those who are not, who are willing to thumb their noses
at a country dying for some gun safety, dying just to get a vote on gun
safety in the wake of the horror at Newtown, Connecticut.

On the open to debate side, there was John McCain -- in this case, the good
John McCain -- Lindsey Graham and others who love the U.S. Senate, love it
for the very reason it allows debate. Call them the shirts.

Then the list of 31 senators, 29 of them Republicans, telling the American
people -- 9 out of 10 whom say they want to see stronger background checks
for gun buyers -- to forget about it, forget about their concerns after
Newtown because these 31 people don`t want to be bothered with having to
get up there and say where they stand.

Those are, obviously, the skins in this contest. They`re the usual
suspects of the rejectionist front -- Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jim Inhofe, and
the guy who is scared someone might -- like one of them -- is going to
knock him out of his seat, Mitch "following the bouncing ball" McConnell.

So finally the bright red line is there for all of us to see. And so is
the state of the Republican Party that now seems headed for a suicidal
plunge not seen since Barry Goldwater said "Extremism in defense of liberty
is no vice."

I`m joined by NBC News political director and chief White House
correspondent Chuck Todd. Chuck, you`re so smart about politics. Why
would the Republican Party basically take this stand? There`s a lot of
passion out there. These victims` family members, they come on this
program, they come on other programs. They go to the senators` office.
They get them on the phone. Their hearts are open. They`ve been hurt.
And they just say, Just give us a vote. And these guys, 31 of them say,
Forget about it.

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.: Well, because
the party itself is divided on this issue. And I think that you have
Republicans who believe they were elected to represent the Republicans that
put them in office, the Republicans that nominated them.

And when you look at our own polling, I mean, where the Republican Party is
today and where independents are, where Democrats are and moderates and
liberals versus conservative, it`s two different places. So...

MATTHEWS: Well, where does that 10 percent live?

TODD: They`re -- they`re -- well, they...

MATTHEWS: The 10 percent that doesn`t want to have gun safety improvement.

TODD: Well, you know, they live in rural America. This is a cultural
issue. The thing with the gun debate -- and I keep coming back to this --
is that it`s emotion getting involved in public policy. And whenever
emotion and public policy come together, it usually leads to polarization
and it usually leads to an inability to get something done.

Immigration is a great example. Seven years ago, it was all emotion. Now
it`s become clinical. The emotion`s been taken out of it. And what do we
see? Probably looks like it`s marching along. There`s going to be a
pothole here and a pothole there, but the emotion got taken out of it.

The emotion`s not anywhere -- I mean, the emotion that`s passion and...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: I think it becomes like a seesaw, one person`s emotion with the
victims, and then you get other ones where it`s this culture feel of
government getting involved in our lives.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but you think back and -- you`re -- it`s before my time,
too, but you remember when they fought in the early `60s about -- about Jim
Crow and getting rid of all those racial things down south, where it says
"white only" at the gas station, men`s room and everything? And that was -
- the old states of the Confederacy were against any of those changes.

But now is that large a body of Republicans out there that are truly being
represented by the "don`t even vote" crowd?

TODD: It`s -- no, it is this slice of the Republican Party that is vibrant
in these red states in these primaries.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: So I think it`s -- look, there is this divide among -- but there`s
even a divide among the culture in the United States Senate, where you have
a Johnny Isakson, a Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: This wing of the party...

MATTHEWS: They say, Let`s vote.

TODD: We`re legislators.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: We`re going to be conservative legislators, but we`re legislators.
And then you have a new strain of the Republican Party, this new crowd
that`s gotten in there, that says, No. You know what? Government gets too
big when it does anything. Whatever it...

MATTHEWS: I got you.

TODD: Legislating is bad, period.

MATTHEWS: So don`t even debate.

TODD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And by the way, it looks to me like the 29 -- following up on
your thought -- a lot of these people like Mitch McConnell are not born
right-wingers, but they`re afraid of the right-winger who`s going to
challenge them in a primary.

TODD: Well, and what happened...

MATTHEWS: Howard was sitting in that chair yesterday, Howard Fineman. He
says all this thing going on in Kentucky, with the -- whatever`s going on
there, the taping of that meeting and everything, was really Mitch
McConnell coming out screaming, Bring in the FBI, because he wanted to show
he was a real right-winger...

TODD: Well, he was tough.

MATTHEWS: ... and mad at the left.

TODD: He was tough. And you know what? It has united conservatives
around him. Look, conservatives -- you know, the enemy of my enemy is my
ally, and that`s what`s going on here with McConnell.

But this is survival.

MATTHEWS: I know.

TODD: The fact of the matter is, Chris, he saw what happened. His own guy
got -- didn`t lose to Rand Paul, got crushed by Rand Paul.

MATTHEWS: Trey Grayson, yes.

TODD: OK? Got crushed by Rand Paul. John Cornyn, who in his own state,
his own guy got crushed by Ted Cruz in a runoff, OK?

MATTHEWS: I know.

TODD: It wasn`t that close. This is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Orrin Hatch. It`s all the same thing.

TODD: It is reality now.

MATTHEWS: Yes, they are worried. Anyway, as I said, 29 Republicans today
and 2 Democrats voted to block debate, and that shocked one Newtown family
member, Jillian Soto. Remember, she was here? We met her here on HARDBALL
earlier in the week.

Her sister, a teacher in Newtown, Connecticut, was murdered at Sandy Hook.
Here`s what Jillian had to say today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILLIAN SOTO, SISTER KILLED AT SANDY HOOK (on-camera): I was very pleased
with how many yesses we did have and happy that we were able to get this
passed. But I was still completely shocked that there were so many who
were still against this and who still believe that we don`t need to be
heard, that Newtown doesn`t deserve a vote and that nothing needs to be
done.

I was directly affected by gun violence. My sister was murdered because of
this cause. And (INAUDIBLE) there are still people who don`t think
anything needs to happen just shocks me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What a human person there. Anyway, a spokesperson actually for
Gabrielle Giffords`s gun advocacy group had this to say to the "no" voters
out (ph) today, the ones who want to block any debate. "To the senators
who voted no today, we regret your attempt to obstruct debate and deny a
vote to the families of Newtown, of Tucson, of Aurora and countless other
communities across the country. Americans deserve better than the loyalty
to the corporate gun lobby that you displayed today. With our help, your
constituents will be educated and reminded of your actions today and in the
coming weeks ahead."

So I guess the pro-gun control people, the gun safety people out there are
going to try to spread the word.

But your point is pretty tough. It`s very hard to dislodge these people.
They`re strongly in the base of the right-wing party that doesn`t want to
hear about it.

TODD: (INAUDIBLE) I`ve talked to some aides that are close to some
Republicans who voted no on this, and they said they know how bad it looks.
They`re not -- they`re not -- not necessarily something they want to do,
but they say -- they say the reality has become in the United States
Senate, the way this works now is that a vote like this is simply a vote
for gun control. It doesn`t matter. You can`t...

MATTHEWS: Right.

TODD: The constituency groups that you have to court to win your
renomination -- there is no more -- you used to be able to -- this used to
be procedural. We didn`t pay attention. All this stuff gets paid
attention to...

MATTHEWS: Boy is that a tough line (ph).

TODD: And it`s wrong -- and here`s the thing. This is what`s wrong. You
want to know what`s wrong in the United States Senate? What`s wrong in the
United States Senate, that the idea that a cloture vote -- and I`m sorry
I`m using the term...

MATTHEWS: I know what you mean, to close debate and vote.

TODD: ... this idea to close debate or open debate is somehow judged as a
vote for or against...

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a big development today. The NRA, I think, put it
out. They`re going to score on the basis of how you vote on this.

TODD: And this is what -- this is what`s wrong with the United States
Senate, that it`s become this. And that`s the problem.

And you know, the irony is there are guys that voted no on this that didn`t
want to vote no on this but felt politically trapped that they had to do
it. And like I said, I`ve talked to those and they say, You know what? We
wish it were different. And I say, Well, why don`t you change it? And
they say, Well, talk to my boss.

But it is -- that`s the reality we live in. The United States Senate, this
is what makes it broken. When ex-senators come on you and tell you it`s
broken, current senators claim no. Every ex-senator...

MATTHEWS: Yes, when 31 senators...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: That`s right. This is stupid.

MATTHEWS: Thirty-one senators refuse to be the world`s greatest
deliberative body, even though they`ve been elected to it.

TODD: But you know what? They would have been judged as being pro-gun --
or...

MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks for the reality. Tough reality, though. Thank you,
Chuck Todd.

Today Politico reported, quote, "Toomey has privately told Democrats he
hopes to sway six to eight of his GOP colleagues to support the final
package after all the amendments are resolved. Yet right now, the only
solid Republican votes on background checks are Toomey and Illinois senator
Mark Kirk." They`re the only Republicans.

So what are the prospects for getting something passed in the Senate after
all the talk? Senator Angus King`s an independent senator from Maine who
caucuses with the Democrats.

Senator King, you`re an independent guy, so I want your views on what you
see and smell on the floor of the United States Senate. Chuck Todd said a
lot of these senators, 31 of them, basically are afraid to even have a
debate because when they vote to have a debate, the NRA says you`re one of
the bad guys.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, I think you got to break that down into
two issues. Number one, you guys have looked for the last five minutes at
the glass half-empty. Sixty-eight senators voted on one of the most
controversial and contentious issues in recent American life. Sixty-eight
senators voted yes, knowing that the NRA was going to score that vote. And
I think that`s a pretty positive development.

When I went in there today to vote, I wasn`t sure, you know, whether we had
the 60 votes. So 68 voted yes. I think that`s a good sign.

The other piece is, and I think Chuck was talking about this, is what
you`re really often talking about Republican primaries, but it`s a even
narrower issue than that. It`s the number of people who vote in a
Republican primary, or in a Democratic primary for that matter.

Up in Maine last summer, when I was running, we had I think it was 13
percent of the Republicans voted in the Republican primary, something like
9 percent of the Democrats. So you got a very small group of people who
are deciding who the candidates are going to be, and one highly organized
constituency, whether it`s the NRA or whoever, can really sway one of these
primaries.

So that`s the political dynamic that`s going on now, is a narrowing of the
voting base, which leaves it to the most activist and excited and
passionate people. And that`s part of what you saw today.

But you know, I think what happened today was pretty positive. Now the
question is, can we hold onto those votes and get to final passage, or are
we going to have to face another filibuster later on? But you know...

MATTHEWS: OK...

KING: ... we got to this one pretty quickly and got the votes.

MATTHEWS: This is what -- I want to now explain our opportunity to show
what the real hard right -- here`s Ted Cruz on the Mark Levin show, a very
conservative radio guy, and a very, very conservative senator. Let`s hear
what he says. I think this is the scare tactic I`m concerned about on the
hard right.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: A registry is, number one, inconsistent with the
2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms, but number two, historically,
has been the predicate for taxation, regulation, and ultimately for
confiscation. That`s what this fight is all about, is they want a registry
because they want to limit the liberties of law-abiding citizens.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t know where to start in terms of taking that apart or
deconstructing it. There`s no talk of a registry.

KING: There`s no...

MATTHEWS: There`s talk of a background check. And what in history in this
country`s ever been confiscated? I`ve never had my car confiscated. It`s
been registered. People have their fishing licenses. Their fishing poles
aren`t confiscated.

KING: Look, Chris...

MATTHEWS: What are we talking about here?

KING: Chris, look, they can`t really argue against background checks.
It`s really hard to say -- you know, you and I grew up, remember, we heard
the NRA used to say, "Guns don`t kill people, people kill people"?

MATTHEWS: I know.

KING: And the logical result of that is, OK, let`s do background checks
and keep the guns out of the hands of people that shouldn`t have them. But
this registry thing is the best argument they have.

And frankly, you know, I`m disappointed in Senator Cruz. He`s a really
smart guy. There`s nothing about registries. And in fact, Toomey and
Manchin have negotiated this. We`ve been having background checks for 25
years, and the records are kept at the gun shops. There`s no federal
record of them. There`s not a federal registry. Everybody understands --
what the issue there is.

And he -- you know, he lumped me in I guess with everybody else because I`m
supporting background checks, saying what they really want is registration.
That`s not what I want. I want a background check so the people who
shouldn`t have guns don`t get them. And it`s people with criminal records,
people who are prone to violence with mental illness.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KING: And so that`s a -- I guess the classic term is red herring.

MATTHEWS: I know.

KING: It`s just really not part of the argument.

MATTHEWS: I`m just afraid -- I`m just afraid that the tail is wagging the
dog up there. These new kids on the block, the latest, most right-wing
senators like Rand Paul and this guy Cruz, the most right-wing senators
we`ve ever seen now have the majority behind them, 29 on their side of this
fight today, 16 on the other side in their party. The crazier people are
calling the shots. That`s the way I see it.

But I thank you for your optimism. We need a lot of it. Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: No, really.

KING: All right. Thanks, Chris. Well...

MATTHEWS: You sound like a Peace Corps guy. It`s really good.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Well, hey, man, you got to look on the positive side, and there are
some good things going on around here. And you know, there may have been a
time a few years ago where that group would have said, OK, the whole party
is going to vote no and they`re going to sustain the filibuster. I think
the fact that the party broke on this and there were a significant number
of votes for cloture, that`s -- that`s -- that`s progress, man.

MATTHEWS: Senator Angus King of Maine, a true independent. Thank you for
coming on, sir.

Coming up: President Obama`s Sister Souljah moment, some are calling. He`s
doing what a leader does, actually telling his side they`re going to have
to give a little. In this case, that means telling Democrats they`re going
to have to make concessions on programs like Social Security and Medicare.

My question: Are Republicans ready to seize the moment, or are they simply
going to rely on cheap shots like saying, as one did yesterday, the
proposal is a shocking attack on seniors?

Also, President Obama has already ended two wars, passed health care and
helped lead the way on gay rights. If he can match those first-term
successes with progress on guns, on immigration, and on a grand bargain on
government costs, we could be looking at a transformational president.

And tonight, we`ve got the woman with perhaps the least enviable job in
America, the Democrat running against Chris Christie. That`s going to be
interesting.

And Republican Joe Barton`s logic against human-caused climate change.
Well, he said we had the great flood back in the Bible, and that was
climate change and it sure wasn`t caused by man. So clearly -- well,
whatever.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, heading into the 2014 election, a lot of governors around
the country are on shaky political ground. "The New York Times`s" 538 blog
ranked the most vulnerable governors up for reelection next year. Here are
the top five, the most vulnerable, their net job approval ratings.

At number five, Pennsylvania`s own Tom Corbett. The Keystone State has a
tradition of reelecting its governors, but -- big but here -- Corbett`s at
minus-14 in job approval and could get the hook.

Number four, Sam Brownback of Kansas, 16 points underwater. Number three,
in Florida, Rick Scott, 20 points underwater and potentially facing a
challenge from our own Charlie Crist.

At number two, Pat Quinn of Illinois. And the most endangered governor in
America, Rhode Island`s independent governor Lincoln Chafee, with a net job
approval rating -- catch this -- of minus-40.

Well, it`s worth nothing that besides Quinn and Chafee, the rest of the top
12 on the list are all Republicans. Tough for them.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. When it comes to the country`s
economic future, President Obama knows the country must act on both taxes
and spending, that both sides need to compromise. So his plan includes the
smart and necessary move of shaking Democrats out of their comfort zone on
Social Security and Medicare. It`s not an easy concession to ask of a
party that believes the two programs are sacrosanct and there has been
furious response from the left.

The president`s next step may be even tougher, getting Republicans to sign
onto a grand bargain that tackles those expensive programs and changes the
tax code.

Republican John Feehery was the top spokesman for former speaker Dennis
Hastert and Democrat Michael Feldman was an adviser to Vice President Al
Gore.

Well, let me ask you gentlemen about this, whole thing. Feehery, go ahead,
take your cheap shot here because I think your opportunity has already been
taken by the chairman of your campaign committee.

It seems to me Republicans, in fact, led by your real speaker, Boehner, and
the rest of the conservatives, will gobble up the part of the president`s
proposal they like, which is economies with regard to the cost of living
adjustment and also with regard to Medicare, and then push back on any push
for higher revenues.

If that`s your party`s probable position, why don`t they say so publicly
instead of this game they`re playing of saying, Ouch, ouch, this is
terrible what you`re doing to Social Security!

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think what Republicans want
to have happen is that we have a long-term plan to deal with our
entitlement spending, and then also keep the economy growing by not
imposing higher taxes on companies and small businesses and job creators.
And I think what the president is doing with this CPI thing, which I
personally support, but it`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re reasonable.

FEEHERY: But it`s also a dangerous trap. If the Democrats -- the problem
for Greg Walden is Democrats are not going to say, Hey, I support this.
What they`re going to do is they`re going to oppose it, and then if
Republicans support it, they`re going to run against Republicans on that
issue.

And so Greg Walden, who`s head of the Campaign Committee...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: ... is saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on here. This is not
necessarily good for our most vulnerable Republicans.

And that`s his job.

MATTHEWS: I got you.

And, by the way, just to recap on this, what happened the other day is the
president said in his budget that one of the ways we have to save money and
get the debt down was deal with this CPI, the way we adjust Social Security
payments and other payments by the government and change the formula so
that it doesn`t go up so much every year. In fact, he would argue it`s a
more accurate account of how much inflation there really is.

And he has also proposed savings on Medicare. But here`s the Republican
congressman from Oregon who chairs the committee -- keep going -- for
reelection of all the House members on the Republican side.

Yesterday, on CNN, he actually attacked the president from the president`s
left, calling the plan an attack on seniors. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GREG WALDEN (R), OREGON: I thought it`s very intriguing in that his
budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will.

I`ll tell you, when you`re going after seniors the way he has already done
on Obamacare, taking $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare,
and now coming back at seniors again, I think you`re crossing that line
very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in
districts like mine certainly and around the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, nice try.

The conservative group, by the way, Club For Growth, tagged that guy there,
Greg Walden, as a RINO, in other words, Republican in name only, and said
he`s got a primary challenge facing him right now.

And this morning, my colleague Joe Scarborough called on House leadership
to distance themselves from Walden`s remarks, saying -- well, here is what
he had to say. Here`s Joe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MORNING JOE")

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: If they do not say that Greg Walden is wrong and
this is not the position of the House leadership and this is not the
position of the head of the NRCC officially, and that they are going to
discourage their candidates from doing this, I say the president should
walk away.

It is shameful. This is shameful. I cannot -- I cannot condemn this
enough. I`m going to be as tough on this issue as I have been on the
president for not having the courage to talk about entitlements.

Republicans, you better speak out against this right now. Forget the
politics. This is about the next generation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, this is why I have always liked Scarborough because I tell
you, he`s being absolutely consistent here.

Michael Feldman, let me get back to the politics. The Republicans are
having a hard time getting their usual act together, which is they support
entitlement reform. That`s the position of the party. Save money on
government spending, especially so-called entitlements. Look for ways to
save the money. Be tough if you have to be.

The president basically joined them the other day with his budget, saying,
OK, now pony up on the revenue side. How does Obama get them to pony up on
the revenue side since he stuck his neck out on the spending side?

MIKE FELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, this is the first round,
and I thought what the president did was take -- by the way, it`s not his
proposal.

This proposal that`s become so controversial is actually a Republican
proposal. It was offered originally by Boehner and McConnell. And so you
can`t on one hand say you want a meaningful, comprehensive budget deal and
then demagogue the president when he comes out and actually embraces a
Republican proposal.

But I think the reaction to it is indicative. I think what you heard Joe
say this morning, what John just said, what Speaker Boehner said this
afternoon, people are walking back a little bit from this because they
can`t be seen as playing pure politics as we enter into a serious
negotiation about our economic future.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s take a look at -- here`s Speaker Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have made it clear that
I disagree with what Chairman Walden said. He and I have had a
conversation about it, and I expect it to -- this is the -- this is the
least we must do to begin to solve the problems in Social Security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And so, John Feehery, is this -- I mean, that`s the rational
approach. And, by the way, Scarborough is rational there, too. It is this
guy Greg Walden that is out to lunch.

But it seems to me that what your party is going to do -- and I want -- I
want Michael to jump in here and challenge you. If all your party is going
to do is to go like they`re in a cafeteria, and they`re going to say, yes,
I like this part of the president`s proposal, getting tough on Social
Security recipients and Medicare, trying to save some money there, but
we`re not going to go after anybody with any money, we`re not going to
reform the tax system so it`s a fairer system, you guys are going to do
that, aren`t you?

That`s what you`re planning to do, isn`t it, just what I just said?

FEEHERY: Well, I think, if you look at the budget, the Ryan budget, it had
fundamental entitlement reforms.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FEEHERY: And then I think it called for some tax reform. And I think part
of that entitlement reform includes means-testing, which means that rich
people couldn`t get the benefits that they were used to getting.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FEEHERY: So, I think that that`s part of this.

Now, let me defend Greg Walden here for a second. His job is to elect
Republicans. And the fact of the matter is, is that this CPI proposal,
even though I think it`s pretty modest, doesn`t poll very well. The senior
citizens don`t want any changes to Social Security.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And they have been encouraged by the lobbying groups, and it`s
one-tenth of 1 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Which I will agree.

MATTHEWS: It`s nothing.

FEEHERY: But it polls very poorly.

And if Democrats -- the problem here is Democrats are going to run against
Republicans this election on this very proposal put forward by President
Obama.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. OK.

Feehery, you were right the first time.

Michael Feldman, are Democrats smart to show a little leg here, for the
president to go out there and say, OK, I`m willing to give a little?

FELDMAN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Is that smart politics?

FELDMAN: It`s absolutely smart politics.

And, by the way, it`s smart governing. They`re not running this process
based on the last poll that they saw. They`re saying, how do we get a
comprehensive deal? And, by the way, that`s going to include entitlement
reform, which the president has been talking about for a long time, plus
investments, plus revenues.

All of that comes together to create a meaningful deal, which, by the way,
strengthens the middle class and improves our economy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Michael, I appreciate that.

And, by the way, I think what`s going to happen next October right before
the election -- and Feehery knows this -- the president is going to be able
to go to the middle-of-the-road suburbanite, the one who decides these
elections, right in the middle politically, and say, look, I came to the
middle. That right-wing-dominated party didn`t even bother coming to the
middle.

FEEHERY: No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: John Feehery, that`s what it`s going to be.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: What`s going to happen is the Democrats are going to run
commercials on this very issue bludgeoning Republicans. That`s what`s
going to happen.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

FELDMAN: Well, nothing is going to happen if we don`t actually try to get
something done.

MATTHEWS: OK. You know what`s going to happen? We`re going to stop this
debate.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, John Feehery.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I`m invoking not -- not cloture.

Anyway, coming up -- and thanks, Michael.

Coming up, if Republicans are trying not to be the stupid party they`re
calling themselves, as some say, didn`t they get the message? The latest
crazy talk next in the "Sideshow."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And this is the "Sideshow."

You know the feeling when a politician says something and you think, did I
really just hear that? Well, first tonight, Congressman Joe Barton on the
subject of climate change. The Texas Republican doesn`t dispute that
climate change is occurring, only whether it`s called by us, by humans.

In a House hearing on the Keystone pipeline yesterday, Barton went pretty
far back for evidence that humans are not behind climate change. Think
Noah`s Ark.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: People like me that support hydrocarbon
development don`t deny that the climate is changing.

I think you could have an honest difference of opinion on what`s causing
that change without automatically without being either all in, it`s all
because of mankind, or it`s all just natural. I think there`s a divergence
of evidence.

If you`re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the great flood is
an example of climate change, and that certainly wasn`t because mankind had
overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, yes, the congressional hearing did contain that reference
to the great flood.

By the way, theories that suggest such a flood actually occurred, of
course, controversial to say the least.

Anyway, Barton, by the way, is a longtime skeptic on such topics. He once
pointed out that CO2 emissions are nothing to worry about because we find
it in everyday things like Coca Cola, and, of course, in his area, Dr.
Pepper.

Well, next, lawmakers in Montana this week debated whether to repeal a bill
that makes gay sex a crime in the state. Well, one of them, Republican
Dave Hagstrom, stepped in to explain why he would not repeal the law that
outlawed gay sex.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DAVE HAGSTROM (R), MONTANA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I have a lot of love
and respect for a whole number of homosexual friends, so there`s no
homophobic issues going on here at all with me.

I kind of liken it like this. This -- this pen has two purposes. The
first purpose, of course, is to write. The second purpose is to retract so
that it doesn`t leave a stain on your shirt or your purse. So it has two
purposes, but one is primary. The other is secondary.

To me, sex is primarily purposed to produce people. Sex that doesn`t
produce people is deviant. That doesn`t mean that it`s a problem. It just
means it`s not doing its primary purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, by his definition, birth control should be outlawed.

Next, the latest pro-gun advocate to sound the alarm about what he
considers bad polling again. Last week, I spoke to Larry Pratt, the head
of Gun Owners of America. And here`s what he said about a Quinnipiac poll
showing that 91 percent of Americans do support background checks for
people that buy guns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY PRATT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: I`m saying it`s no
good.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

PRATT: I`m saying it`s as good as a $3 bill, because the same people that
are telling us 90 percent, we found it`s 4 percent. NRA found it`s 5
percent among their members.

MATTHEWS: So, people keep telling -- every poll we get keeps saying the
same thing, but those people are lying?

PRATT: If you set the poll up so that you get a certain outcome, then
you`re going to get a certain outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So that poll was worth a $3 bill to Pratt.

Anyway, yesterday on CNN, Pratt was asked about polls taken by FOX News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Do you believe the FOX News polls?

PRATT: I`m not sure I believe any polls at this time. I don`t think they
know how to answer the -- ask the right questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was the big bad Wolf there.

Anyway, pollsters don`t know how to ask questions. That`s a great line. A
recent FOX poll, by the way, put the question like this: "Do you favor or
oppose requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers, including
those buying guns at gun shows and private sales?"

Pretty clear question, wasn`t it? It wasn`t hard to answer it. And 85
percent said they are in favor of stronger background checks. I think Mr.
Pratt is confused.

Up next, it`s a big question for our times. Is President Obama on the
verge of becoming a truly transformational president? Well, he was a
president who fundamentally changed the trajectory on a lot of things in
the first term. Is he going to do it again and make himself that man in
history, the transformer?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARY THOMPSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Mary Thompson with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

The Dow gained 62 to close at another new high. The S&P 500 adds five,
also hitting a new record. The Nasdaq gains more modest, only up two
points.

The latest jobless claims numbers were a factor in today`s gains. Last
week`s 42,000 decline in those claims was the largest since mid-November
and much larger than expected. Also, several retailers, including Costco,
reported weaker-than-expected sales in March. However, Costco`s shares
ended higher along with the broader market.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Big stakes for President Obama and his presidency right now. He has now
got three significant items in the works that could cement his presidency
as truly transformational in history, guns, a grand bargain on the economy,
and, three, immigration reform.

On guns, you could get -- if he gets background checks through both houses.
On the grand bargain, can he slow the growth of entitlements and get
Republicans to raise revenues? On immigration, can he get a real
enforcement reform passed?

A new NBC poll shows public opinion on immigration now shifting in a way
that bodes well for the president. The majority of Americans now say
immigration strengthens the United States, a number that`s been rising
steadily, as you see here, up 13 points since 2005. And the president`s
got these accomplishments already in the can, if you will.

He did sign the major health care reform bill which had been fought for,
for 100 years. He did end two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and he has
presided, and we all know this, over the greatest cultural shift in memory,
the American shift on the issue of marriage and marriage equality.

While the president has had the benefit of good timing, of course, the
country has seem primed for a change. Even as a candidate, Obama knew the
importance of a leader seizing the moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 2008)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t want to present
myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what`s different
are the times.

I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I mean, I
think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you
know, Richard Nixon did not, and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.

He -- he put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was
ready for it. I think Kennedy 20 years earlier moved the country in a
fundamentally different direction. So, I think a lot of it just has to do
with the times. I think we`re in one of those times right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is former San Francisco Mayor Willie
Brown and Bloomberg View columnist and MSNBC political analyst Jonathan
Alter, whose upcoming book is "The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies."

Let me start with Mayor -- Mayor Brown.

I know you have strong beliefs about this. And lay it out. Take a couple
minutes. What do you think is on the books and what probably will be on
the books on this president`s side of being what he describes as a
transformational president?

WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: I think the first three
things obviously are those that he accomplished in his first term. And,
clearly, he has on the agenda three more that if he accomplishes those,
that puts him in a category with Ted Williams on bat (ph), so to speak. He
really will be something unusual and incredible.

And he is correct in that you can only do those things when you can put
together the appropriate number of supporters to follow what you are
recommending. You have to provide the leadership, but you have to put the
subordinates together.

In this case, this guy doesn`t deal with politicians as supporters. He
doesn`t deal with political parties as supporters. He doesn`t deal with
special interests like organized labor or the financial institutions or
anybody else. He deals directly with the people.

His goal, obviously, is to have the people speak and he becomes the
microphone by which the people`s voices are heard. That is
transformational.

MATTHEWS: Give me the Obama six, Obama half dozen. You said three done,
three to go. What are the first three you think has set him apart in
history?

BROWN: Well, I think first and foremost is the one that everybody was out
there for so long, and that`s the health care issue. For years, people
have been complaining about why I don`t have health coverage. I don`t
work, and so therefore, I`m not covered. I`m getting uncompensated care,
or I`m provided uncompensated care if I`m a local hospital.

He stepped up to the plate. When Hillary Clinton tried it in the `90s, it
didn`t work. She shut down by all of the special interests on the left and
the right.

Obama stepped to the plate and put it together and really produced it. And
I think he did that because the people basically were ready. Not because
Democrats or Republicans were ready. The people were ready.

And then, of course, he took exactly what Mr. Bush screwed up on the war
side and he addressed that issue effectively. And the evolution of the war
issue has removed it from the front pages.

And then, finally, he did something which I thought he would never do. And
that is in 2004 when he was in San Francisco, he didn`t want to stand and
be photographed with Mr. Newsom because Mr. Newsom had just started the
same-sex marriage process, with what appeared at that time to be legal
authority.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me -- let me --

BROWN: Mr. Obama, in the thoughtful election, he`s evolved and he`s gotten
there to where now, it clearly is the most significant change most of us
have seen in the last six, seven, eight or nine years.

MATTHEWS: Now, Jonathan, you jump in here on the other three. We`re
looking at gun control.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: We`re looking at some kind of grand bargain on the economy, on
fiscal policy, with taxes and spending thrown in, and we`re looking for my
standard -- maybe I`m tougher than most people on the liberal side -- I
want to see a real workable, sustainable, enforceable immigration policy
we`re proud of and we wish to enforce. I want something really done. Not
another Simpson/Mazzoli disaster of 20 years ago.

Your thoughts? How is he doing as a transformer?

ALTER: Well, I think the things are really changing around just in the
last few days, and last couple weeks, of what I called the Notorious BIG
agenda, budget, immigration and guns.

What he did on the budget is -- in introducing his budget, he basely called
the bluff of the Republicans. They didn`t think he was really going to try
to tackle entitlements. And when he did, with this chained CPI idea, even
if people don`t like it, what it did was it split the Republican Party,
which is what you want to do in politics.

So, yesterday you saw them all over the place. Some of them saying, well,
of course, we have to embrace this, we`re for entitlement reform. Others
are trying to pander to seniors. And he`s going to be in a much stronger
position on the budget because of the budget he just proposed and we`ll get
something solid, if not a grand bargain, at least a good bargain.

On immigration, the gang of eight in the Senate is moving forward some kind
of an agreement there which I think will pass the House. Because the
Republicans learned from the last election that if they don`t get right on
this issue, they are going the way of the Whig Party. They must do
something to address their problem with Latinos. Obama will get most of
the credit but Republicans will get some.

And on guns, with this recent agreement between Senators Toomey and
Manchin, that also will, I believe, not just pass the Senate, but it will
be approved in the House. The reason being --

MATTHEWS: Wow, you are optimistic, sir. You are really optimistic.

ALTER: Here`s why, Chris, this is why this bill is going to go through in
the House. Obviously, there are some Republicans who are scared of
primaries. But if they are in swing districts, several of them --

MATTHEWS: There`s 10 of them.

ALTER: -- which were carried by Obama, they have to worry about those ads
paid for by Mike Bloomberg and others that have Newtown parents in them,
that are denouncing them for being on the wrong side of this issue.

Who wants to sail into that wind? They will come around to this
legislation.

MATTHEWS: OK, you`re making the case. I don`t think it`s there yet.

Anyway, thank you, Mayor Brown. Thanks for the exposition of what I think
is true, past and future.

And thank you, Jonathan. I think you`re way ahead of time on that gun
issue. We`ll see. We`ll see.

Up next --

ALTER: You heard it here first.

MATTHEWS: -- Chris Christie -- you can always predict and hope it`s right
but if it isn`t, you`re wrong. Sorry. There are no free shots on
HARDBALL.

Thank you very much, Jonathan Alter. Thank you, Mayor.

We`re going to talk about the most popular governors in America. Why run
against them? This guy -- look at this guy. He`s hard to beat. We`ve got
the candidate that`s going up against him. She`s got the guts to do it.

This is HARDBALL, the place to talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton may have the opportunity to turn a lot of red
states blue if she runs for president.

Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard. In Kentucky, a state that hasn`t gone
Democrat since Bill Clinton won in `96, Hillary manages a tie with home
state Senator Rand Paul, 45 percent-all. It`s according to a new PPP poll.

And against Marco Rubio, an early Republican front-runner, Clinton holds a
six-point margin down in Florida. Florida is looking good, 46-40,
actually.

That`s evidence Hillary could be redrawing the electoral map for Democrats
next time around.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

There are two, of course, big governors races this year, Virginia and, of
course, New Jersey. In Virginia, Republican Attorney General Ken
Cuccinelli faces off against longtime Clinton adviser, Terry McAuliffe.

And in New Jersey, it`s the outspoken, no nonsense Republican Governor
Chris Christie, one of the most popular governors in the country right now.
Christie got rave reviews in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy one week
before the 2012 election.

These pictures of Christie, a Republican, embracing President Obama along
the Jersey shore resulted in rare criticism of the wildly popular governor.
It came from Republicans who felt that Christie was being too helpful to
the Democratic president`s re-election prospects.

Well, Christie is a bland, of course, in your face governor and seems a
shoo-in, you might say, for his reelection. So, who would stand a chance
of beating him?

Well, presumptive democratic nominee Barbara Buono hopes to. She`s a state
senator representing the parts of central Jersey. She joins me now.

Let me -- you know, I know politics. I don`t know the Jersey situation. I
admire your courage, as of course, anybody runs for office but taking on
this big guy.

These pictures of those two politicians walking along the Jersey shore
after Sandy, the public loved. It was the one time that the people saw the
kind of bipartisan governing that they wanted. How can you -- what is your
reaction when you see these pictures? What your reaction seeing those
pictures now?

BARBARA BUONO, D, CANDIDATE FOR NJ GOVERNOR: Governor Christie did what --
he did his job and did what he should have done for New Jersey. That was a
terrible crisis for all of us. And I have to tell you the silver lining on
it all is I saw New Jersey come together like they never had, people
helping one another out of this crisis. And I think it`s an important
lesson to be learned.

MATTHEWS: So you don`t have a problem with the way he did that?

BUONO: Oh, absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, take a look at this latest poll. This is from
Rutgers/Eagleton. It`s got Governor Christie`s approval rating at 68
percent, pretty high in this country. By the way, a lot of governors are
in trouble. Twenty-six percent disapprove.

And his favorability is high across party lines, 93 percent of Republicans
approve him. No surprise. But also three-quarters of independents and
even a slight majority of your party, 41 percent.

What`s that tell you?

BUONO: You know, voters don`t know me. And I`ve been in the Senate for 12
years. First woman minority leader, first woman to chair the budget
committee. You know, New Jersey has and New York and the Philadelphia
media markets and it`s hard to penetrate. So, people don`t know me.

But as people get to know me, things will change. The gap will close.

MATTHEWS: Yes. A lot of state figures in your state have been there, like
Clifford Case, nobody said they were. He was senator for 24 years, nobody
knew who he was.

Let`s take a look at an ad run against Christie the first time around when
he was out to beat Corzine, during the last gubernatorial election. The
former Governor Jon Corzine poked fun at Christie`s weight in this nasty
political ad. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD NARRATOR: If you drove the wrong way down the one way street, causing
an accident and putting the victim in a trauma center, would you get away
without a ticket? Chris Christie did.

If you were caught speeding in an unregistered car, would you get away
without points? Chris Christie did.

In both cases, Christie threw his weight around as U.S. attorney and got
off easy. If you didn`t pay taxes and ignored ethics laws, would you get
away with it?

Chris Christie, one set of rules for himself and another for everyone else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK. That`s purportedly about traffic ticket. It`s about the
guy being big. They show him in a white shirt coming out in that car,
throw your weight around. Are you going to run the campaign like that?
Does that work in New Jersey, taking on a guy`s weight?

BUONO: I`m going to run a campaign --

MATTHEWS: You`re not going to do that again?

BUONO: I`m going to tell you what I`m going to do.

MATTHEWS: You`re not going to do that again?

BUONO: I`m going to tell you what I`m going to do.

MATTHEWS: Did you like that ad?

BUONO: I think it -- I`m not going to comment on another campaign and what
they did. What I will say is I`m going to have a campaign on the issues
are that there`s over 400,000 people are still out of work. The middle
class has shrunk under this governor and his policies have not corrected
the situation.

There are not still -- the highest property taxes in the nation. People
are hurting.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you, to shorten it up a little bit, what would
you do the last couple of year that this governor didn`t do? Put it
positively, as you put it.

BUONO: I would put people back to work.

MATTHEWS: No, but that`s a goal. But how would you do it?

BUONO: I would have a real economic plan to put people back to work.

MATTHEWS: What would the plan do?

BUONO: No, I can tell you what I wouldn`t do.

MATTHEWS: No, no, you want to be positive. Tell me what you would have
done differently that this governor in the last three or four years?

BUONO: There are -- I would not pull out of the arc tunnel. That would
have created thousands of jobs.

MATTHEWS: The one that was to go to New York City underground --

(CROSSTALK)

BUONO: I would have not have pulled out of the multistate pack that was
creating green jobs. He unilaterally pulled out of that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- think the tunnel cost?

BUONO: Well, you know, we have Ray LaHood come to New Jersey on several
occasions trying to give the state of New Jersey comfort level that we
weren`t going to be left holding the bill. We haven`t paid a portion of
it. But you know what? It would have benefitted New Jersey in the long
term.

MATTHEWS: Where would you have gotten the money to pay that? Because he
didn`t want to spend the money. How would you have gotten the money for
the tunnel?

BUONO: Well, it wasn`t that he didn`t want to spend the money. It was
that he said that there were going to be overages that were going to be.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BUONO: And the fact of the matter is, it was well worth -- he -- all of
his decisions are guided by his eye to 2016. That`s why he decided to pull
out of the largest infrastructure --

MATTHEWS: 2016? You think he`s running for president?

BUONO: Do you?

MATTHEWS: I`m asking. You`re from New Jersey. You`re my reporter here.
Do you think -- is that part of your campaign? Do you think he`s using it
off as a stepping off point?

BUONO: Well, I`m not a political pundit. What I do care about, what this
race will be about, is putting people back to work.

MATTHEWS: I think you made the point that he`s running for president. I
completely agree with you, first thought.

You`re very nice, Senator. It`s very nice to have you on. Seriously, I
think you`re going to give a great challenge to this guy. Thank you,
Senator Buono from New Jersey.

BUONO: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: When we return, let me finish with the high stakes for President
Obama right now. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

This president, Barack Obama, stands at a crossroads right now. He`s done
some historic things getting elected, for one, and health care, something
his predecessors talked about for 100 years.

He presided over a ground shift on marriage equality, ending "don`t ask,
don`t tell", he`s ended the war in Iraq and on the verge of ending one in
Afghanistan.

Now, if he can get a stronger background for gun buyers, if he can win a
grand bargain by getting Republicans to raise revenues, if he can get
through an enforceable immigration law, then he really is in contention to
be the truly transformational president he talked about when he was running
for office.

We`ll soon know how this all adds up. The stakes are high. So are the
hopes.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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